French Silent Letters and Pronunciation

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One of the difficulties with French pronunciation is that it is not a phonetic language. A phonetic language (e.g., Spanish, Arabic) is one in which each letter has a single corresponding sound; in other words, spelling matches the pronunciation. Other languages, like French and English, are not phonetic: they have letters that can be pronounced in different ways or sometimes not at all. 

There are three categories of silent letters in French.

  • E muet / Elision
  • H muet and aspiré
  • Final consonants

This lesson will focus on final consonants; follow the links to the right for detailed explanations of the silent letters E and H.

The basic rule of French pronunciation is that the final consonant is not pronounced, but there are many exceptions, which are what this lesson is about.*

The letters B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R are usually pronounced at the end of a word. Tip: Since B, K, and Q are rare as final consonants, some people find it helpful to use the word CaReFuL to remember the most common of the usually pronounced final consonants.

Usually pronounced Some exceptions*
B le Maghreb
un snob
un club
le plomb
C un truc
un flic
avec
un estomac, un tabac, le porc
nasal vowel + c: un banc, blanc
F actif
un chef
un oeuf
un nerf, une clef, oeufs
K un anorak
un look
le bifteck
L il
avril
un hôtel
un bol
gentil, outil; vowel + -il: à l'appareil, un oeil

The other French consonants are usually silent at the end of a word, with some exceptions. Tip: Many exceptions are proper names or words borrowed from other languages.

Usually silent Some exceptions*
D froid
chaud
d'accord
sud; Proper names: David, Alfred
G le sang
long
le grog
M, N un
balcon
parfum
Latin words: amen, forum
P un drap
beaucoup
un champ
un slip, un cap
S exprès
trois
vous
bas
un fils, un autobus, le tennis
T et
abricot
salut
vingt
brut, ouest, huit; -ct ending: direct, strict; -pt ending: concept, sept
X deux
un prix
un époux
six, index, Aix
Z chez
le riz
le gaz

Note: The words plus and tout have their own pronunciation rules.